Welcome back, readers. Christian’s Cinematic Syntax is back for the fall semester, and I am excited to share my thoughts on a new batch of films that really caught my attention. Unlike last semester, I will be less strict on what I review, but I will continue selecting based on my world film preference. My “Modern Cinema From Around the World” series was last semester, and now I intend to just publish reviews as their own, without a series attached. Without further ado, I will begin with the 1957 Palme d’Or winning drama, The Cranes Are Flying.
An anti-war film that battled censorship at its release, The Cranes Are Flying focuses on a young couple facing tragedy. Boris (Aleksey Batalov), a factory worker, and Veronika (Tatiana Samoilova), a nurse, are thrust into a harsh reality of life during wartime. Boris volunteers for service, leaving Veronika with a toy squirrel, a birthday gift, and her only memento of him. The couple, now separated, fight their own battles. Veronika resists the romantic advances of Boris’ cousin at home while Boris fights the enemy on the front lines. As the film progresses, these characters change, and tragedy strikes. Veronika and Boris lose the most so the Soviet Union and allied forces can continue on.
Welcome to yet another dinner party from hell, which could very well be the tagline for Karyn Kusama’s 2015 film The Invitation. This film is the definition of a slow burn because whenever you think something violent is about to happen, it pivots in a new direction. However, this doesn’t mean it’s void of tension as it’s always there simmering beneath the surface. Every sound from the clattering of wine glasses to the constant beeping of a car engine is articulated to the point where audiences are left waiting for a release that will never come (until the last 30 minutes of the film that is).
Karyn Kusama’s 2015 film The Invitation is worth watching but not for the reasons you might think. It is best to approach the film without grand expectations and with the realization that it is not your typical horror movie. It is better described as a psychological mystery/drama.
The general narrative structure is straight-forward at best and highly predictable. The mystery of the invitation is revealed early on, despite the attempt of hiding it with the uncomfortable atmosphere of the dinner party. Still, there are some redeeming qualities that make this film worth watching at least once.
I’m never going to a dinner party in the Hollywood Hills, no matter how good looking the people are.
Subdued, meticulous and distinctive in tone, The Invitation is a film whose horrors lie in human behavior rather than supernatural forces. Director Karyn Kusama taps into the primal nature of paranoia and suspicion to craft an engrossing psychological thriller that will do everything it can to spike your anxiety up into the stratosphere. The film also serves as a poignant study of grief and the lengths a person will go to free themselves of its pain.
The strength of The Invitation comes from its unpredictability: it keeps the audience second-guessing every visual cue and character action. The sense of unease stems from dissonance among the characters. Their situation continually gets weirder as the film goes along, but the nature of social etiquette keeps everyone quiet. The filmmakers keenly exploit people’s innate impulse to side-step public displays of strangeness to conjure up an excellent sense of sustained tension. The film is a series of tensions and diffusions. Carefully placed diversions keep us and protagonist Will (a tour-de-force Logan Marshall-Green) on edge, constantly rethinking and reanalyzing the situation.
It’s no secret that I adore Jordan Peele’s debut horror feature, Get Out. Needless to say, it’s a film I immediately fell in love with due to its intricate details, stellar performances, and perfectly paced narrative. It went on to be my favorite film of 2017, and I would definitively declare it as being one of the decade’s absolute best films. Having watched it yet again just last month, I’m astounded at the fact that Get Out remains as impressive as ever, and I have been counting down the days until we would get to see what Peele had in store for us with his next film.
Finally, that wait is over. After two long years, Peele is again gracing cinema marquees with his highly anticipated follow-up, Us. I’m going to be up front here: Us is nowhere near as good as its predecessor. However, despite some glaring misgivings I have toward this sophomoric effort, Us is definitely worth seeing. It is, in the end, an extremely well-made and oftentimes very enjoyable horror flick. However, Us is also nowhere close to being as essential as Get Out was. But it should come as no surprise that Peele’s newest work again highlights remarkable acting and gorgeous cinematography, and is based upon yet another inventive, terrifying scenario that’s sure to not only get your blood pumping, but also stimulate your mind in the process.
At the center of Us is a family of four, the Wilsons, which includes mother Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), father Gabe (Winston Duke), teenage daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph), and young son Jason (Evan Alex). We join them as they’re pulling up to their comfortable beach house for a summer getaway in Adelaide’s childhood home in Santa Cruz, and we’re allowed some valuable time upfront in order to better align ourselves with these characters and appreciate their relationships with one another. These early moments are breezy, funny, and memorable, as Peele makes it easy to become attached to his likable cast of characters.
Found below are three reviews of Richard Kelly’s 2001 film, Donnie Darko, written by Lewis University students Hannah Cross, Megan O’Brien, and Joseph Pryzdia.
Donnie Darko, directed by Richard Kelly, sends its audience down the rabbit hole (almost literally) into a twisted idea of time travel. The movie is suspenseful and brilliant as it alludes to other great works, notably: Alice in Wonderland. Donnie is followed by a white rabbit, which is the basis for his hallucinations and visions throughout the film. This movie’s genre lies somewhere in the spectrum of mystery, sci-fi, and teen angst in the John Waters tradition. The audience can easily relate to the feelings that Donnie has about being the outcast, not only in school but also in his family. Its satirical elements bring out some of the darker and dry humor in the movie. The canted cinematography and jagged editing of this film add to the eerie, chaotic, and unsettling feelings to the audience. While the majority of scenes are bright and colorful, every scene with the rabbit becomes visibly dark and muted by design to foreshadow the impending dark side of the film. Continue reading →
Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund’s 2002 film, City of God, is a vortex that swallows the audience into its cyclic narrative that emphasizes the dangers of toxic masculinity and consequences of the notion “being a man.” As observed in the film, a twisted perspective of manhood can be a bullet that passes through one generation to the next, destined to extinguish them all.
Meirelles and Lund’s film is a stunning execution of a labyrinth-like storyline in which the audience delves into the lives of multiple characters. Then, through cinematic moves such as foreshadowing and flashbacks, seamlessly intertwines these plots that become a metaphorical domino effect. As the film progresses, and gradually strips down the plot, we observe how the actions of one character cause a steady disruption in the lives of everyone else. From the jarring, handheld camera scenes, to the drastic shifts in color gradients from deep, saturated blues, to honeyed yellows, the audience experiences the chaotic and disruptive life of the film’s gang members. Similarly, to the characters in the story, the audience is overtaken by this whirlpool narrative, trapped in “the slum [that had] been a purgatory.” But, “now it’s hell.”
Is retention of identity and country worth breaching personal morality and happiness?
This is one of the overarching questions found within Andrzej Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds, where Wajda uses Poland, his home country, as a means to explore the post-war struggle for power and identity. The film utilizes one of the most important days in the country’s history, May 8th, 1945, the day when the war in Europe ended with Germany’s surrender. In examining his country, the uncertainty of the future is taken as a key element, although Wajda does not give a definite answer to what will become of his country, examining for the sake of exploration. This uncertainty has an interesting dichotomy, which is in the form of a fear of the unknown and the beauty of faith and hope, which is similar to speculation about death and possible afterlife.
Welcome, readers, to the first installment of “Fear Needs No Translation,” a bi-weekly summary and review of international horror. I, Justin Fortes, will be your tour guide, conductor, pilot, and captain through this terrifying adventure. Each week, a different film will be analyzed not only for its plot and visual aesthetic, but also for the underlying socioeconomic and political issues that the work attempts to resolve. As we take this journey through the blood-drenched planes that we call horror cinema, keep in mind that we will be stepping into territories past our own borders. Let’s throw on our cultural sunglasses and buckle up; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
As our train pulls into the station of our first film, please be aware of zombies rampantly roaming about the platform. In the 2016 Korean film, Train to Busan (originally titled Busanaheng), director Sang-ho Yeon takes on the challenge of reviving the undead of George Romero’s nightmarish hellscape for a new generation of horror-heads. With a resume exclusively composed of animated films prior to Busan’s release, Sang-ho surprisingly entered the international horror scene, storming in and showing no sign of slowing down.
While we’re only two months into 2018, the year’s most eagerly anticipated film has already arrived with Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, which is a decidedly stunning addition in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) directs the long-running franchise’s first black-led film with dazzling, groundbreaking results, ultimately becoming a true cause for celebration.
The character of Black Panther (played by the wonderful Chadwick Boseman) made his impressive MCU debut in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, instantly becoming a fan favorite through the slight appearance. Here, T’Challa, the recently-crowned king of Wakanda — which is a fictional, secretly prosperous African nation in possession of virtually infinite supplies of a made-up super metal called vibranium — is really allowed the chance to be the A-list superhero he was always destined to become. It was no question that this film and this character would end up being an important milestone in the superhero genre as well as an inspiration to countless children around the world, but it’s extremely gratifying to be able to relay that Black Panther is also the stellar solo-outing that so many of us wanted it to be.